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New Mayo go down fighting

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

New Mayo go down fighting

UNLIKE their last championship encounter it was not over in ten minutes. But when Sunday’s semi-final did eventually draw to a close, the margin between them wasn’t a lot less.
Yet, paradoxically, among the Mayo thousands there was little despondency. People were in good mood. Although the records will reveal a defeat of nine points, it was not seen as surrender. Hope is not abandoned.
Mayo went down fighting, bowing eventually to a far better side, but not capitulating, not humiliated, not surrendering to the accusing ghosts of past flops. The simple truth is they were not good enough. But they were better than the 9-point gap would tend to suggest.
For much of the first half they more than held their own with the Kerry men, won some vital duels, disarmed some of Kerry’s big guns, and tested their convictions . . . then lost mainly because of flaws in their own performance.
You can’t give Kerry an inch or they’ll punish you. And at times Mayo looked a team still in the learning process. Having survived an early storm before Darran O’Sullivan was eventually reined in, they got on top for a while but failed to drive home the advantage.
Goalkeeper Robert Hennelly kept them in the game before it was a minute old with a reflex save from O’Sullivan, and a few minutes later he denied the same man with another super stop, just after Enda Varley had given them the lead in the 6th minute.
For the following fifteen minutes or so, Mayo had a grip on the game. Aidan and Seamus O’Shea won a lot of primary possession and the Kerry backs were being drawn to the wings with clever Mayo distribution.
But because their minds were firmly fixed on defence, neither midfield nor half-backs were able to provide full support to the forwards in fast breaks. Even Kevin McLoughlin, so dangerous against Cork, had fallen too far back to be as effective in attack.
So too, had Aidan O’Shea. And while Andy Moran, Enda Varley, and Cillian O’Connor did have the measure of their opponents, the support was not always there to make full use of that advantage.
The best chance fell to Andy Moran in the 14th minute but although he turned and twisted and then unleashed a shot with his weaker foot, goalkeeper Brendan Kealy proved to be as adept as Hennelly at the other end . . . effecting a brilliant save.
The feature of the first half, though, from a Mayo point of view was the performance of Ger Cafferkey at full-back. We saw a new side of the Ballina man as he outfielded and outplayed no less a celebrity that Kieran Donaghy.
Later the Kerry man was forced to switch outfield, and although Cafferkey faced no less a power than Declan O’Sullivan, he was no less successful. His was an admirable piece of full-back play.
Trailing by two points after 23 minutes, Kerry’s concern was obvious, and they began to win a lot of the midfield breaks. Colm Cooper was beginning to assert himself, and inside ten minutes they had turned a two-point deficit into a three-point lead.
A disquieting feature of the final minutes of the half was the noticeable drain in Mayo energy. Having spent most of the half dragging Kerry’s ageing defence around the place, the likes of Tomas Ó Sé and Tom O’Sullivan seemed only to be gathering steam.
Still there was hope for Mayo at half-time when they trailed by only two points, and expected to have the edge in energy in the final quarter.
Instead Kerry drove on inexorably, teasing out moves as only masters can. Paul Galvin was introduced and changed the whole trend of the middle-third play, dominating and orchestrating every move. And up front was the Gooch at his destructive best, brilliantly irrepressible.
Mayo replaced Seamus O’Shea with Ronan McGarrity, but while I have been an admirer of McGarrity, the Ballina man was sadly lacking in leadership and soul on Sunday.
After Cillian O’Connor brought a ray of hope with a great goal, Cooper responded with an equally splendid rasper . . . the ball having spilled between Hennelly and Tom Cunniffe who had a good first half, but found Cooper more than a handful after the break.
At the other end the outstanding Moran, who gave Marc Ó Sé a lesson, saw his effort rebound off an upright, and Donal Vaughan, wonderfully successful at centre-back, had a point with a possible goal chance.
Plaudits, too, to Keith Higgins and Trevor Mortimer for eventually forcing the Kerry selectors to replace Darran O’Sullivan and Donnchadh Walsh; to Richie Feeney for good basic defending; to Alan Dillon for his customary commitment, if not quite realising his customary effectiveness, and to Enda Varley and Cillian O’Connor for impressive semi-final debuts.
The team lost some of its shape in the final minutes. But it lost none of its adventure. All credit to James Horan, then, and his backroom men for transforming a season that had taken on such a bleak outlook early on. In muscle and adaptation he has brought a new dimension to Mayo football.


WE can’t leave Mayo’s defeat of Kerry in the 1951 All-Ireland semi-final without a word about how the replay was won.
Eamonn Mongey, it will be recalled, singled out Tom Langan for his vision in scoring the goal in injury time that led to the draw with the Munster champions.
Langan’s inventiveness was equally evident in the replay. Here is what corner forward Dr Joe Gilvarry had to say about this football virtuoso:
“In the replayed semi-final against Kerry in 1951 the first ball that came in the three Kerry full-backs went for it. Langan came to me and to Mick Flanagan (the other corner forward), and told us not to jump for the ball when it came in. Instead, he would jump and punch it down.
“Twice he went for the ball in the second half, punched it down, and Mick Flanagan scored two goals from them. Langan had thought out how to beat the Kerry defence.
“When things were going well for a player he would say, ‘good man’. When things were not going so well, he would say to me, “Joko where are you playing?”
Opposing Langan in those matches was Paddy Bawn Brosnan, the legendary Kerry full-back. Writing about his tussles with the Mayo man, Brosnan had this to say:
“The All-Ireland football crown was askew and about to topple. Numbed by excitement, the Croke Park thousands had hardly a breath left to cheer. There wasn’t much breath left in the thirty men on the field either. And the seconds of broken time were ticking away.
“Mayo, All-Ireland champions, were four points down and about to bite the dust. We had only to hold fast and we had them. The Sam Maguire Cup was halfway to Tralee.
“The ball was kicked out from the Kerry goal ­ a short kick ­ and the half-backs and opposing forwards burst into action. Then, out of nowhere, a flying, lanky figure materialised inside all the defenders. And he had the ball.
“In agonising seconds that seemed eternity, he closed the gap between him and goal. Goalie Liam Fitzgerald charged out. But a flick of a fist put the ball over his head and into the net.
“Before the cheering died Mayo had sent over the equalising point and the champions’ day was saved.
“Although the heartbreak of the moment still comes back, I never think of Tom Langan without seeing again that lanky figure flying towards the Kerry goal. It was one of the greatest moments of a great sportsman and a great footballer.
“Tom was a heartbreak to a full-back, mainly because he never knew when he was beaten.
“Yes, he did it well. Tom was always working the head. If he couldn’t beat you one way he tried another. And he never tried the same thing twice.
“But I could not ask to meet a finer antagonist. As well as being a great footballer and a tough opponent, Tom Langan was always a true sportsman.”

Just a thought …
If Dublin dismantle Donegal’s clamming defensive methods next Sunday we could be set for a new chapter of Kerry-Dublin confrontations, renewing memories of an old, intriguing rivalry.